Word Knowledge for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Jul 5, 2011


The explanations are important because they show you how to go about choosing a synonym if you don't know the word.

  1. a. Incoherent means not understandable. To cohere means to connect. A coherent answer connects or makes sense. The prefix in- means not.
  2. d. Ambiguous questions are vague or uncertain. The key part of this word is ambi-, which means two or both. An ambiguous question can be taken two ways.
  3. c. Debris is scattered fragments and trash.
  4. a. Inadvertently means by mistake. The key element in this word is the prefix in-, which usually means not, or the opposite of.
  5. d. The key element here is ex-, which means out of or away from. Exorbitant literally means "out of orbit." An exorbitant price would be an outrageous one.
  6. c. Compatible means harmonious.
  7. a. The key element in this word is the root belli-, which means warlike. The synonym choice, then, is hostile.

Context Questions

Context is the surrounding text in which a word is used. Most people use context to help them determine the meaning of an unknown word. A vocabulary question that gives you a sentence around the vocabulary word is usually easier to answer than one with little or no context. The surrounding text can help you as you look for synonyms for the specified words in the sentences.

The best way to take meaning from context is to look for key words in sentences or paragraphs that convey the meaning of the text. If nothing else, the context will give you a means to eliminate wrong answer choices that clearly don't fit. The process of elimination will often leave you with the correct answer.

Context Practice

Try these sample questions. Circle the word that best describes the meaning of the italicized word in the sentence.

  1. The maintenance workers were appalled by the filthy, cluttered condition of the building.
    1. horrified
    2. amused
    3. surprised
    4. dismayed
  2. Even though she seemed rich, the defendant claimed to be destitute.
    1. wealthy
    2. ambitious
    3. solvent
    4. poor
  3. Though she was distraught over losing her keys, the woman was calm enough to remember she had a spare set.
    1. punished
    2. distracted
    3. composed
    4. anguished
  4. The evil criminal expressed no remorse for his actions.
    1. sympathy
    2. regret
    3. reward
    4. complacency


Check to see whether you were able to pick out the key words that help you define the target word, as well as whether you got the right answer.

  1. a. The key words filthy and cluttered signify horror rather than the milder emotions described by the other choices.
  2. d. The key word here is rich, but this is a clue by contrast. The introductory even though signals that you should look for the opposite of the idea of having financial resources.
  3. d. The key words here are though and losing her keys, signaling that you are looking for an opposite of calm in describing the woman. The only word strong enough to match the situation is anguish.
  4. b. Remorse means regret for one's actions. The part of the word here to beware of is the prefix re-. It doesn't signify anything in this word, though it often means again or back. Don't be confused by the two choices that also contain the prefix re-. The strategy here is to see which word sounds better in the sentence. The key words are evil and no, indicating that you are looking for something that shows no repentance.
  5. For Non-Native Speakers of English

    Be very careful not to be confused by the sound of words that may mislead you. Be sure to look at the word carefully, and pay attention to the structure and appearance of the word as well as its sound. You may be used to hearing English words spoken with an accent. The sounds of those words may be misleading in choosing a correct answer.

Word Parts

The best way to improve your vocabulary is to learn word parts: roots, which are the main part of the word; prefixes, which go before the root word; or suffixes, which go after. Any of these elements can carry meaning or change the use of a word in a sentence. For instance, the suffix -s or -es can change the meaning of a noun from singular to plural: boy, boys. The prefix un- can change the meaning of a root word to its opposite: necessary, unnecessary.

In the sections on prefixes and suffixes are some of the word elements seen most often in vocabulary tests. Simply reading them and their examples for five to ten minutes a day will give you the quick recognition you need to make a good association with the meaning of an unfamiliar word.


In order to be able to unlock the meaning of many words in our language, it is useful for you to understand what a prefix is. A prefix is a word part at the beginning of a word that changes or adds to the meaning of the root word in some way. By learning some common prefixes, you will learn to recognize many unfamiliar words. After you have completed the exercises in this chapter, you will become acquainted with the meanings suggested by some of the more common prefixes, which will improve your reading, speaking, and listening vocabularies.

      prefix: ante means before
      going before in time
      The event was _______to the Civil War.
      prefix: anti means against
      revulsion; any object of strong dislike
      The child had an_______toward snakes.
      prefix: circum and circ mean around
      to go around; to catch in a trap; to gain superiority over; to prevent from happening
      Police tried to_______the riot by moving the crowd along.
      prefix: con means with, together
      agreement, especially in opinion
      The committee reached_______about gun control.
      prefix: contr means against
      a discussion of a question in which opposing views clash
      There is a_______about building nuclear power plants.
      prefix: dec means ten
      to destroy or kill a large portion of something; to take or destroy a tenth part of something
      Caterpillars can_______trees.
      prefix: de means down, away from
      to lower in grade or position
      Upper ranked officers can_______a lower ranked person.
      prefix: dis means not, opposite of
      not motivated by personal interest or selfish motives
      A loyal citizen is_______.
      prefix: eu means good, well
      the use of a word or phrase that is considered less distasteful or offensive than another
      "She is at rest" is a_______for "she is dead."
      prefix: ex means out of, away from
      going beyond what is reasonable and proper
      The colonists rebelled against_______taxes.
      prefix: il means not, opposite
      not able to be read
      The student had to rewrite the_______paper.
      prefix: inter means between
      stopping and starting again at intervals
      The weather forecaster predicted_______showers.
      prefix: mal means bad
      having an evil disposition toward others
      A_______person rejoices in the misfortune of others.
      prefix: pre means before
      a forerunner, a harbinger; one who or that which goes before
      Calmness is usually a_______to a storm.
      prefix: pro means before
      a forecast; especially in medicine
      The injured animal's_______for recovery is good.
      prefix: retro means back, again
      to think about the past
      looking back on or thinking about things past
      In_______,the world leader wished he had acted differently.
      prefix: sub means under
      inferior to or placed below another in rank, power, or importance
      a person or thing of lesser power or importance than another
      to treat as inferior or less important
      The wise president treated her_______with respect.
      prefix: syn, or sym means with or together
      putting of two or more things to together to form a whole
      In chemistry, the process of making a compound by joining elements together is called_______.
      prefix: trans means across
      to go beyond the limits of; to overstep; to exceed
      A seeing eye dog enables blind people to_______their disability.
      prefix: tri means three
      of little worth or importance
      The research scientist did not have time for_______pursuits because he was so busy conducting important experiments.

Words in Context

The following exercise will help you figure out the meaning of some words from the previous list. Circle any context clues that help you figure out the meaning of the bold words.

In our country, the use of nuclear power as a viable source of energy has been an ongoing controversy. During the gas and oil shortages of the 1970s, energy prices were exorbitant. The federal government supported nuclear power as a new energy source that would be cost effective. Now, the President's National Energy Policy Report lists nuclear power as a safe and affordable alternative. Today, as in the past, many people have voiced their antipathy toward nuclear power plants, especially in the wake of the 1979 partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. At that time, scientists scrambled to circumvent a total meltdown in a facility that was designed to be fail-safe. There was great fear that the meltdown would be complete and decimate the area. Now, the federal government is once again promoting this alternative energy source.


Word endings that are added to the main part or root of words are called suffixes. Suffixes are word parts that signal how a word is being used in a sentence. You will note that each word in the list is a particular part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, or adverb). Suffixes often change the part of speech of a word.

For example, take the word deferment from the list below. A deferment is a noun that means a postponement. If the suffix (-ment) is removed, the word becomes defer, and it is used as a verb meaning to postpone.

      As a verb it appears as defer:
      I will defer the payment until next month.
      As a noun it appears as it is:
      The bank gave him a deferment.
      As an adjective it appears as deferred:
      The deferred payment is due in one month.

The following table shows a list of common suffixes. They are divided into the parts of speech, or the "jobs" they suggest for words. In the last column, add at least one other word that uses the suffix, besides the examples in the word list.

      suffix: -ian means one who is or does
      having to do with agriculture or farming
      The farmer loved his_______ life.
      suffix: -ist means one who
      one that contends with or opposes another
      In the movie Batman, the Joker is Batman's_______ .
      suffix: -ry means state of
      unreasonable zeal in favor of a party, sect, or opinion; excessive prejudice
      _______ can lead to malevolent actions.
      suffix: -ate means to make
      to complete; to carry to the utmost degree
      The business woman needed to_______ the deal quickly.
      suffix: -ious means having the quality of
      abundant; plentiful; in great quantities
      A_______ amount of sunshine is predicted for the summer.
      suffix: -ic means causing
      hidden; secret; having a hidden or ambiguous meaning
      The detective uncovered the meaning of the_______ message.
      suffix: -ment means quality of
      the act of putting off or delaying; postponement
      The bank offered the struggling college graduate a_______ on his student loan payment..
      suffix: -ive means having the nature of
      done in a stealthy manner; sly and underhanded
      The two criminals who were in cahoots gave each other_______ looks behind the detective's back.
      suffix: -able means capable of
      Her dedication and ability to rehabilitate the injured is_______ .
      suffix: -ology means study of
      the study of the history of the Earth and its life, especially as recorded in rocks
      The_______ major traveled to Mt. Etna to examine the effects of the volcano's most recent eruption. .
      suffix: -ize means to subject to an action
      to play down; to keep to a minimum
      The President tried to_______ his involvement in the trial so that he would not be implicated in the scandal..
      suffix: -tion means action of, state of
      the act or process of changing
      Scientists research gene_______ in fruit flies to see how genes change from one generation to the next.
      suffix: -escence means state of
      the state of being outdated
      With the advent of the personal computer, the typewriter has been in_______ for many years.
      suffix: -ity means state of being
      the state or condition of being the same in power, value, or rank; equality
      Women and minorities continue to fight for_______ in the workplace.
      suffix: -ism means state or doctrine of
      faith in the practical approach
      The man's_______enabled him to run a successful business.
      suffix: -ive means having the nature of
      something that stirs up an action
      The_______ words of the environmental activist inspired many to go volunteer for the community clean-up day.
      suffix: -ify means to make
      to make right; to correct
      The newspaper tried to_______the mistake by correcting the misprint.
      suffix: -ity means state of being
      the state or condition of being the same in power, value, or rank; equality
      Women and minorities continue to fight for_______ in the workplace.
      suffix: -less means without
      harsh; unmoved by pity; unstoppable
      She was_______in her search for knowledge; she read everything she could get her hands on.
      suffix: -ate means to make
      to look upon with deep respect and reverence
      Some cultures_______ their elders.
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